State Board names interim education commissioner

The State Board of Education selected a veteran educator Wednesday to fill in as state education commissioner until the job is filled permanently by Gov. Dan Malloy.

George A. Coleman, deputy commissioner at the State Department of Education, was appointed to replace Mark McQuillan, who resigned unexpectedly last month.

The appointment comes as the education department and the State Board of Education are expected to undergo major changes. In addition to naming a new commissioner, Malloy is expected to appoint eight of the 11 voting members of the state board.

Malloy has promised a national search for a new commissioner, who will oversee a public education system that is facing the most serious financial crisis in decades and undergoing changes approved in a sweeping school reform bill last year.

The job will be a crucial appointment as the state’s public schools struggle to close one of the nation’s largest achievement gaps for minority and low-income students.

Malloy has said he is looking for a commissioner who is “a proven change agent, somebody who’s willing to play a leadership role along with the governor . . . making sure that we reverse some of these very damaging trends.”

Under state law, the governor appoints a commissioner after receiving a recommendation from the state board. The nomination must then be approved by the legislature.

Allan Taylor, chairman of the state board, said the search process would begin after Malloy makes new appointments to the board. Taylor said he hopes a new commissioner can be named by summer.

McQuillan had expressed interest in seeking reappointment, but announced his resignation Dec. 21, citing stress. The announcement came a day after McQuillan had a testy exchange with Taylor at a committee meeting on school finance. McQuillan ended the meeting abruptly and left the room, leaving committee members stunned.

Coleman, 60, has been with the education department for 24 years. This will be his second term as interim commissioner, a post he also held from August 2006 following the resignation of Betty Sternberg until April 2007, when McQuillan was named commissioner.

Coleman is a well-respected administrator who has overseen matters such as the department’s role in complying with a court desegregation order in the longstanding Sheff vs. O’Neill legal case.

He also is considered an expert in kindergarten and early childhood education.

Coleman described the interim appointment as a “wonderful privilege” and said he supports Malloy’s call for a national search for a new commissioner.

 “I’m very supportive of a national search that allows us to form a consensus on a leadership agenda,” he said. “During these next difficiult years, we’re going to have to all be on the same page on a high priority agenda that can bring us out of the current educational dilemma we’re in.”

However, he did not rule himself out as a candidate for the permanent appointment.

He said he has told Malloy that “if they find qualities in me that can engage in leading this initiative forward…I would be accepting of it.”

Coleman holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Tuskegee Institute and graduate degrees in early childhood education and curriculum and instruction from Teachers’ College at Columbia University.